"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Night Circus

Anchor Books (Random House)
The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern

The Summary
"The circus arrives without warning."

And so begins the incredible journey of the Night Circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, with its amazing performances, its astonishing tents, and its mysterious secrets.

Begun with Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, a pair of magicians trained expressly for the purpose of pitting their talents against one another, the Night Circus weaves a complicated web of stories and lives, involving both patrons and performers alike - like young Bailey, who falls in love with the circus, and Poppet and Widget, twins who find their entire lives wrapped up the striped tents of Le Cirque des Rêves.

The Good
Erin Morgenstern's novel is addictive, like her circus creations.  Perhaps because the author is also an artist, her novel has a level of visual precision and creative acuity that is, in a word, extraordinary.  The Night Circus is rich with detail and crafted with uncanny precision, populated with beautiful scenery, breath-taking adventures, and endearing characters.

As the stories of Celia and Marco - and Bailey, Poppet and Widget - unfold, it's fascinating to see how Le Cirque des Rêves grows and changes to fit them.  I especially love the idea of the circus being a battle-ground, a test to see which magician is strongest:  Celia with her raw, untamable talent, or Marco with his clever enchantments and powerful spell-binding.

I love the adventure and the romance, the danger and the daring and the drama.  In general, I love the entire concept of the circus.  It's fascinating and beautiful with its black-and-white tents, its magical characters and creations that seem to be pulled directly from a dream.

The Bad
Honestly, I devoured this book.  On the one hand, I wanted to find out when and where all the puzzle pieces would fall into place; on the other hand, I also wanted to know what would happen to Marco and Celia.  Since one or both magicians always succumbed - i.e. died - during a competition, I was justifiably worried for Celia and Marco.  I mean, I love them both:  What would happen to them?  Would they die?  Would Celia survive?  Would Marco?

How does it end?

I can't really say anything more without completely giving away the conclusion, but I will say that I was left with a warring sense of satisfaction and displeasure.  Equal parts romantic and tragic, The Night Circus leaves you with a sense of fulfillment - and an inexplicable desire that things had turned out differently.

The Ugly
The Night Circus can occasionally border on violent.  Celia and Marco endure terrible trials in their childhood training and face even worse turmoil as adults, which makes some aspects of their story difficult to stomach.  Not withstanding the terrible tragedy that also strikes the unlikely circus family very early in their career.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Image courtesy of
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer

The Summary
Since the death of his father on September 11, 2001, Oskar Schnell has been inventing and cataloging and, in a word, searching - to find meaning, to find answers, to find his father and whatever is left of him.

However, Oskar's life takes an abrupt turn after he discovers a key left by his father and realizes he has one last mystery to solve:  find the lock which belongs to his key and uncover the truth behind his father's final puzzle.

The Good
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a remarkable story about one boy's search to solve his father's final puzzle and recover his father's memory; however, this story doesn't belong to Oskar alone.

Foer's work is a compilations of notes and stories from survivors:  Oskar's mother, his grandmother, his grandfather, and others, like Abby Black, William Black, Abe Black, who Oskar meets in his search to find the lock that fits his father's mysterious key.  This is a book about surviving trauma, about finding answers, and, maybe, even learning how to live and accept things as they are.

It's a lovely story, but, admittedly, it's an unusual one in its format.  In fact, it reminds me of The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.  It follows a sort of stream of consciousness format that allows it to better identify with a character's emotional state.  You can visual what Oskar - what all of the characters - feel and you can see what he sees, view the things that speak to him and shape him.

The Bad
I enjoyed seeing through Oskar's eyes, knowing what he felt and what he thought, understanding who he is and why he does what he does.  I liked the insight, even if I wasn't provided with anymore answers than Oskar.  However, I will say that the first-person perspective does have a down-side:  stream of consciousness.

Thought is not always coherent, which means the story will not always retain a coherent pattern.  (Read:  quotation marks are entirely optional, format is malleable, and time is certainly not linear.)  It makes the story unique, yes, but it can also make it slightly confusing.

The Ugly
All the characters you meet are survivors of some terrible trauma.  Whether World War II, September 11, or personal family tragedy, each character endures loss and endures the repercussions of that loss, including the void that is left behind.

And when they can't cope, when they can't endure, it's emotionally jarring to witness.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Image courtesy of
Stephanie Meyer

The Summary
Twilight tells the story of a young girl named Bella Swan, who moves to Forks, Washington, with her father, and begins a complicated love affair with Edward Cullen, a vampire.

The Good
Meyer's book provides you with a simple and easy-to-read format, allowing you to finish it within an afternoon and enjoy the rest of your evening mulling over the quirks of her writing.

More importantly, it promises to offer a unique take on the age-old vampire legends, which, depending on your perspective, might seem like a breath of fresh air.

The Bad
By the same token, the simplicity that Meyer features in her writing can certainly detract from the overall story and mood of Twilight.  Granted, while many of the central characters in her novel are vampires and possess centuries of tradition behind an unchanging facade, that doesn't excuse Meyer's entire lack of development and perpetual use of static characters.

Meanwhile, Meyer receives a gold star for using such creative license in her novel and introducing her audience to the wonderful world of reading; however, I can't done the transition of the vampire from delightful Gothic terror and Creature of the Night to the emasculated horror that terrorizes Bambi in the wilds of Washington and befriends teenage girls.

(Dracula had three wives, controlled ravenous packs of wolves, and terrorized villagers on a nightly basis, not to mention he was a sadistic psychopath, who gleefully slit throats and drained people dry.  Edward Cullen is a far cry from the monstrosity we all know and love in Bram Stoker's work.)

Besides this, the plot appears exceptionally linear and juvenile, not to mention redundant.  This idea of ill-fated lovers has been done before, and done much better.  (Might I suggest Shakespeare?)

I won't say Twilight has absolutely no merits.  It serves as a perfect spring board for introducing young readers to books or as a short vacation from substantially more complex novels, but, honestly, I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone over the age of thirteen.

The Ugly
Bella - and her narrative - possesses a bland uniformity, an annoying monotone, that bored me to tears.  It's not that I didn't enjoy some parts of the story, I just really couldn't stand Bella Swan.  So, if you prefer a little depth to your narrator and some meat on the bones of your plot, you probably won't fall in love with Twilight.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

642 Things to Write About

642 Things to Write About
Image courtesy of
642 Things to Write About
San Francisco Writer's Grotto

Cover Synopsis
"You are a pirate.  Describe your perfect day.

"Fix the plot of the worst movie you've ever seen.

"Write a love letter to a person you dislike.

"Pen an ode to an onion.

"Get your creative juices flowing with this collection of witty, outrageous, and thought-provoking writing prompts.  Open to any page for a fresh dose of inspiration, sure to break through that writer's block and jumpstart your literary genius."

I like the prompts afforded in 642 Things to Write About.  I like how they can touch on normal experiences; I like how they can veer in different, unexpected directions; I like how they can border on unusual, or average, or extraordinary.

And I like that they have a sense of humor:

  • Boxers or briefs.  Discuss.
  • Who wrote the Book of Love?  Why, and what's in it?
  • You are a loser who lives alone with a cat and have for quite some time.  One day your cat can't take it anymore and starts talking.  What does it say?
  • Life among the pirates
  • Write a bathroom wall limerick.

I like how wild and wacky these prompts are, and how it really does ask you to step outside of your comfort zone and explore, think, record, estimate, and dream.

Overall Impression
Admittedly, I haven't finished 642 Things to Write About.  Considering it has 642 things to write about, some of them including essay prompts and some of them waxing toward the poetic and silly, it's difficult to sit down and finish the whole thing from beginning to end.  However, I have enjoyed this book immensely.

And I've enjoyed it for one simple reason:  it's fun.

The entire book is an experiment with your own writing abilities.  It's an intriguing blend of silliness and seriousness, a series of prompts and challenges to kickstart your thinking or distract your mind.  It doesn't matter what you do or don't write, it's plain and simple fun.

Seriously, pick it up and flip to a page.  If you don't have anything to write, flip to another page and keep going, until you find something you like.  Write about your first kiss.  Write about what it would be like to be an astronaut.  Write your life as a series of postcards.

Write about whatever you want, but simply write.